Posted by Emmanuel Mbennah, 27 Feb 2020
Emmanuel Mbennah considers the second of the Beatitudes: Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
What is the comfort of the gospel?
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
In the word of God, the Bible, we read passages about mourning or weeping, grief and sorrow. For example, the only son of the widow of Nain had died. She and those with her were weeping. Jesus comforted her and, of course, Jesus raised him from the dead soon after (Luke 7:11-17). Similarly, in John 11, we read about the death of Lazarus. When Jesus arrived at the home of Mary and Martha in Bethany, he found them in deep grief because of the death of their brother. Jesus himself wept, although a short while later he called Lazarus out of the grave. In Africa, no doubt as is the case in other parts of the world, people do mourn and they mourn for a variety of reasons: death, illness, persecution, and other forms of loss. We could say mourning is an everyday reality. But in our passage today, the Lord says, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’ (Matthew 5:4).
Those who mourn
Generally, ‘those who mourn’ refers to people who have feelings of sorrow, distress, grief, or suffering. I can identify three levels or sources of mourning:
i) Mourning because of situations of pressure and pain, such as torment, oppressions, suppression, desertions, and afflictions from different sources as well as sympathising with other people who are in such situations.
ii) Mourning because of situations of need, such as illness, hunger, homelessness, loss of loved ones, or loss of possessions. As these socio-economic needs are experienced, there will certainly be mourning.
iii) Mourning because of the realities of sin. In this case, those who mourn are conscious of their sins. They may be conscious of sin as a matter of their nature, as they struggle with temptations and the desires of the flesh. They are conscious of the consequences of sin; of the unbelief in their hearts; of their sinning against a God of love and grace; of grieving the Holy Spirit, and of dishonouring Christ. They are also conscious of the sins of others and of the profaneness and wickedness that abound in the world. Because of these and other realities of sin, they mourn.
It is possible to suggest that those who mourn for any reason will be comforted. But the immediate literary context of Matthew 5:4 (namely, verses 3 and 5), suggests that it is those who mourn because of, or in relation to, sin who will be comforted. Clearly, the Lord’s primary thought was about mourning because of the realised ‘poverty of spirit’ just spoken about in verse 3. Mourning in this verse therefore refers to that entire feeling which the sense of spiritual poverty brings about. It refers to grieving due to sin and its realities.
Thus, there is mourning which is a mere natural effect of passion; there is worldly sorrow which works unto death; and there is godly sorrow which ‘brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret’ (2 Corinthians 7:10).
They will be comforted
Christ declares that those who mourn will be comforted. The promise implies the special comfort that the mourner needs, that is, the sense of pardon and peace and of restored purity and freedom. It is important to note that in the time that Christ gave the Sermon on the Mount, there was a general yearning expectation that prevailed among the hearers for comfort (e.g. Simeon was waiting for the comfort or consolation of Israel, in Luke 2:25). Thus, those who have committed sin and are afflicted and wounded by it, and feel that they have offended God, but are grieved by sin in the world and long for God’s grace and mercy, shall find comfort in the gospel.
Comfort in this context entails a sense of the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, clear discoveries of his favour, and the sure hope of our heavenly inheritance. Even so, all present comfort is partial, interrupted, and short-lived. Ultimately, the days of mourning shall end and then God shall wipe away all tears from the eyes of those who mourn (Revelation 21:4). Then, in the fullest sense, shall those who mourn be comforted.
The promise to be comforted is only for those who mourn because of, or in relation to, the realities of sin — and choose to repent and accept the provisions of the gospel. The declaration of ‘blessedness’ applies not to everyone, but only to those who mourn in that sense.
Questions for Reflection
What does ‘mourn’ refer to in Matthew 5:4?
How does God comfort those who mourn?
Does God comfort people who do not profess Christ as Lord and Saviour? Why or why not?
thank you for the privilege of meditating
on the teaching of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
By your Holy Spirit, bring those who are yet to believe the gospel
to the realisation of their sinful state,
and their need for a Saviour.
Grant that we may all understand,
that in our mourning, grief, and godly sorrow
you are the God of all comfort.
Our God, we thank you and pray in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Emmanuel Mbennah is a former biblical studies professor and university Vice Chancellor, and is now the Tanzanian Ambassador to Harare, Zimbabwe. He is the author of The Mature Church (Wipf & Stock, 2013)
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